Typically the noisiest month of the baseball offseason, it's no secret that this December was less active around MLB than it is in most seasons.
While Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto have both come off the market, many of the year's biggest free agents remain without a team with the new year just days away, signaling one of the slower offseasons in recent memory.
Despite the slow pace, teams have been adding to their roster either via free agency or trade, and have at least somewhat of a different look as they head into 2024.
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Well, that is 29 of the league's 30 teams.
As of Thursday, the Chicago Cubs are the only team in the major leagues that has not made an addition to their 40-man roster this offseason, sparking at least a little concern from even the most optimistic of fans.
While several notable names beyond Ohtani and Yamamoto such as Aaron Nola, Sonny Gray and Jung Hoo Lee have come off the board, the Cubs can still find plenty of options on the free agent market to improve their roster.
The market's standstill and its relation to the Cubs has almost entirely to do with Scott Boras, whose clients include Cubs targets Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman.
Boras, long the game's most successful agent, has demonstrated a willingness to wait well into the offseason to try and achieve the desired deal for his clients.
The Cubs, who under Jed Hoyer have been notorious for shying away from long-term, high-dollar commitments that top free agents typically sign, are highly unlikely to meet Boras' demand up-front for one of his clients.
While this perfectly explains the lack of movement at the top of the market for the Cubs and their top targets, the waters are murkier when considering options on the market that were considered more under-the-radar at the start of the offseason.
Jack Flaherty and Luis Severino, two right-handers in their late 20s who have shown impressive peaks at the big league level despite injury and performance concerns as of late, each signed one-year deals with the Tigers and Mets respectively.
Nick Martinez, one of the game's most reliable swingmen arms, signed with the division rival Reds on a one-year deal that includes an option for 2025.
Veteran starters such as Kyle Gibson, Michael Wacha and Kenta Maeda have all found new homes for 2024 as well.
Though the Cubs were just one game short of the postseason in 2024, their offseason should be viewed in a slightly different lens from the regular season record when considering Cody Bellinger's free agency.
With the team's most productive bat on the free agent market, retaining Bellinger will both cost the Cubs a lot and would serve as a primary piece in getting the Cubs to get back to where they were in 2023 at the least.
Boras is reported to be seeking a contract of $200 million for Cody Bellinger, an expectation that first appeared feasible at the start of the offseason with cash-filled teams such as the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees both needing an outfield power bat.
But the Giants went on to commit $113 million to MLB newcomer Jung Hoo-Lee, while the Yankees acquired Alex Verdugo, Juan Soto and Trent Grisham in blockbuster trades.
The acquisitions seemingly took two major suitors off the market, a trend that appeared to continue as the Toronto Blue Jays agreed to a one-year deal with Kevin Kiermaier earlier this week.
With many teams across the league facing financial uncertainty due to the turmoil surrounding Bally Sports Networks that broadcast games for many clubs, committing significant financial resources to players this offseason is simply off the table for several teams.
This likely leaves the Cubs in a better position than many expected to be able to retain Bellinger on their own terms, though a signing soon is not likely barring a team meeting Boras' asking price.
While a signing of Bellinger would fit incredibly well with the club and would help fill a need in both center field and first base, the Cubs have several more holes remaining.
Plans remain unclear at third base, despite Christopher Morel getting playing time at the hot corner in winter league play in the Dominican Republic. Patrick Wisdom and Nick Madrigal are both expected to factor into the Cubs' plans at the position, but an improvement is clearly desired.
The starting rotation and bullpen both offer opportunities of improvement for the Cubs, the former in which the Cubs could conceivably add two players to set up their rotation for the upcoming season.
While Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon and Kyle Hendricks are all expected to occupy rotation spots, Hayden Wesneski, Jordan Wicks, Javier Assad and Drew Smyly make up the mix of other starter-capable pitchers the Cubs have on the roster heading into next season.
Though several starting pitchers are off the market, reigning Cy Young Award-winner Blake Snell headlines the remaining arms on the market, which also include Jordan Montgomery, Shota Imanaga and Lucas Giolito. Former Cy Young Award-winner Shane Bieber is also rumored to be available on the trade market.
Josh Hader headlines the relief class, though valuable bullpen arms such as Jordan Hicks, Robert Stephenson and Hector Neris are all still available.
Though the opportunities to improve the club are still plentiful, clubs who do have a better idea of what their roster for 2024 looks like are likely going to be more aggressive in tying loose ends in January.
While being strategic and calculated with the market's top targets likely puts the Cubs in the best possible position to come away with a big free agent, material improvements to a club that is in need of additions throughout the roster is necessary.
With a farm system at its' strongest position in nearly a decade and a financial situation much rosier than most clubs, the Cubs have a prime opportunity to add to their roster via free agency and trades and put themselves in a position as the clear favorites for the National League Central in 2024.
They just have to make the moves.